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BP Mailbag: 1-16-14 (Part 1)

Lots of mailbag questions this week, so let’s get right to them:

Part 1

With all of the young, small forwards in the system, and with Drouin and Kucherov ready to be the 2 small forwards on the top six in 2 years, do you think that they attempt to re-sign St. Louis or do they let him walk when his contract expires next year? (Donnie D via BP Messageboard)

Yzerman haters won’t believe me, but I think it’s up to Marty. If Marty wants to play for another year or two, I don’t see how Yzerman keeps him off the roster (stop laughing, haters, it’s a lot harder to make Team Canada than it is an NHL club). This is coming from someone who wasn’t surprised by Marty’s omission from Team Canada. As long as Marty will accept a cap-friendly contract and is an asset on the ice, I don’t see why he’s not re-signed. I also, respectfully, don’t think Drouin is in the same “small” category as he’s basically about 6’ tall and plays with a big base.

Connolly Finds Confidence with Crunch


By Jeremy Houghtaling

For Brett Connolly, the first one was the hardest.

The Syracuse Crunch forward, who posted 74 points in 89 games last season, went 10 games before registering his first American Hockey League goal this year. Still, he knew it was only a matter of time before the goals would start flowing.

Connolly finally broke through with a power play goal against Norfolk Dec. 6, turning months of frustration into relief.

"I knew it would come around," Connolly said. "At the start of the year, things weren't going in for me, but I think, in terms of my stats, I'm right back to where I was in the first 22 games last year. Usually it works itself out."

Gudlevskis Puts Olympic Excitement on Hold


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Despite receiving word that he was selected to represent his country at the Olympics, Kristers Gudlevskis is focusing on the task at hand.

The netminder was included on the Latvia men's national hockey team's preliminary roster for the games in Sochi next month, but after finishing practice with the Syracuse Crunch Tuesday, Gudlevskis reiterated what's important to him now.

"I don't concentrate on (the) tournament yet," the 21-year-old said. "I concentrate on the Crunch and do everything possible to win some games, get some points. When I need to go to the Olympics, then I start concentrating on the Olympics."

What to Expect from J-P Cote

Defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote is finally making his return to the NHL after a seven year absence after signing a 2-year, 2-way contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning yesterday. Cote has been an integral part of the Lightning organization for its AHL squads the last three year, most recently with Syracuse.

In September, we called Cote an "elite player for the Lightning organization" for his mentoring roles with prospects, high character, and all-around likability.

Simply put, there are players with all the skill in the world that kids try to emulate, trying trick shots and near-patented moves. Cote's the type of person and player that a dad will take his son by the shoulders, turn him in Cote's direction, and say "be like him." Even if the kid never makes the NHL, he's a player and person his family can be proud of.

Namestnikov Eyes January Return


By Jeremy Houghtaling

For a second-straight season, Vladislav Namestnikov spent most of December watching from the stands.

After getting off to more than a point per game pace, the Syracuse Crunch center had his sophomore season interrupted when he required surgery on his left hand, which was broken from blocking a shot against Hamilton at the Bell Centre in Montreal Nov. 22. The 21-year-old is now counting the days until he can return to the lineup.

"I'm even hungrier now," Namestnikov said. "I just want to get back as soon as possible. I can't wait."

Prospect of the Week: December 17, 2013

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for December 9-15, 2013 is … Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL – USA).

There comes a point in every NHLer’s rookie season where things start to slow down for him. The pace of the game steadies, reads are made quicker, and suddenly the player’s confidence is at a familiar level to him, which usually equals increased production.

Lightning fans are seeing the evolution of Tyler Johnson as an NHLer right before their eyes. Johnson made his debut last season and started this year with Tampa Bay, but only in the last few weeks has he started to look like the real Tyler Johnson – smart, savvy, speedy, and consistently on the scoresheet.

Familiar Face Devos Unsure of Future


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Signed to a tryout deal last month, Philip-Michael Devos joined the Syracuse Crunch with no idea about the length of his stay.

A Calder Cup champion with the Lightning's affiliate in Norfolk, Devos spent all of last season with the Crunch and played all 18 playoff games on Syracuse's run to the Calder Finals. He was not re-signed in the offseason and ended up with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL, but with the injury bug taking bites out of the Crunch lineup, Tampa Bay looked for a familiar face to fill in.

"We brought him up because he could be a useful player for us," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler of Devos. "He can play in all kinds of different situations, and what we liked was that he's familiar with how we play, and he's familiar with our guys and our culture. He seamlessly fit right in."

Prospect of the Week: December 10, 2013

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for December 2-8, 2013 is … Ondrej Palat, W, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL – USA).

The most underappreciated prospect in the Lightning system in recent years is finally getting the attention he deserves. Ondrej Palat, a seventh round pick of the Lightning in 2011, has been a coach’s dream since he forced his way onto AHL Norfolk’s roster in 2011 when the Lightning though he’d return to QMJHL Drummondville. He’s been an integral part of Norfolk, Syracuse, and now Tampa Bay ever since.

Palat is a do-it-all player who thinks the game at another level than most young players. Most times that description refers to offensive vision, but Palat’s is a big-picture, coach-like ability to read the game. His responsibility level is off the charts and he has the skating, size, and skill to fit in on any line.

Korobov Climbing Organizational Ladder


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Dmitry Korobov got the call he had been waiting for -- from teammate Vlad Namestnikov.

Korobov, the hard-hitting Belarusian on the Syracuse Crunch blueline, was having phone troubles, so the message from Crunch coach Rob Zettler about Korobov's first National Hockey League call-up arrived through Namestnikov.

"I was a little shocked, happy, and nervous at the same time," Korobov said through Namestnikov, who helped translate. "Mostly happy."

After playing one game with the Tampa Bay Lightning, being sent back to the Crunch, and making the round trip again, Korobov got a taste of what he came to North America for. Now he’s working to earn more of those calls -- no matter who they’re from -- and eventually a permanent role in the NHL.

Crunch Look to Limit Opposition Opportunities


By Jeremy Houghtaling

For Rob Zettler, it all comes down to being in the right position.

With the offensive lines lacking their normal scoring punch, the Syracuse Crunch coach knows the margin for error is slim. But his defense has keyed in on limiting the opposition’s offensive opportunities, and Syracuse grinded out wins last weekend by holding St. John’s to a pair of goals Friday and shutting out Adirondack Saturday.

"We really limited both teams' chances because we were in good position," said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. "We didn't have the high-end skill we've had in the past, but we made up for it in position and hard work."

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